By on November 28, 2014

BMW-Z9-Concept-1-lg

Everybody loves YouTube personality, gentleman racer, and autojourno-of-the-moment Chris Harris, and I mean everyone. I can still vividly recall a party I attended in New York earlier this year where a lady friend of mine saw Chris and exclaimed in a kind of hysteria that was no doubt aided by the Hendrix-esque combination of painkillers and alcohol she’d managed to swallow, “He’s just adorable!” She then proceeded to totter in his general direction. Since she was (is) six feet tall in her heels and Mr. Harris is about five foot five, this was quite terrifying to Mr. Harris and he promptly hid behind Matt Farah, which is always a solid place to hide.

Luckily for Chris, Travis Okulski happened to wander in at about that time and divert my companion’s high-volume attention. “IT’S TRAVIS! THE GUY WHO CRIED DURING THE PEPSI COMMMERCIAL!” What a night that was, dear readers. Did you know that the last time I started dating someone under five foot nine or so, the Deepwater Horizon was still functioning properly? We’re talking about an entire volleyball team’s worth of tall girls here. Anyway, back to Mr. Harris. He’s written something rather interesting on Jalopnik today, and I’m only feeling slightly smug about it.

Years from now, when the smoke of history clears, another name will be added to that list of designers who were capable of re-imagining the automobile. Born and raised in the American Midwest, Christopher Edward Bangle joined BMW with a rather singular goal in mind: to create what would be only the second major design direction in the company’s history. His complete and utter success in this task has permitted BMW to become a major player on the global stage; along the way, he rewrote the design language for the entire auto industry.

So I wrote in February of 2009 for Speed:Sport:Life, in a column that would later on appear on TTAC. (It’s also in — shhhh! — my book, which is coming out after Christmas some time, I hope.) That was nearly six years ago, but my then-controversial ideas are now being co-signed by more than a few people.

That’s fine with me, because I was right then about Bangle and I’m still right. Without Mr. Bangle and his new approach to vehicle surfacing, automotive styling would have struggled to this present day with the additional vehicle body height that is the primary characteristic of a “modern” automobile. Think of the original Ford Focus and its breadvan chic. That’s what every car would look like nowadays without flame surfacing. Tall, tippy, cheap, and not-so-cheerful. If you think the BMW X6 or Acura MDX is hideous now — as I certainly do — imagine the same vehicle with flat flanks.

So I was right. But if you’d rather hear Chris Harris say it, then see for yourself. Over to you, Mr. Dickinson:

 

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80 Comments on “Oh, Chris Harris, You Brilliant Man...”


  • avatar
    Ihatejalops

    Oh Jackie, you’re not the only one. I mean, even when you see the previous series on the road, it still looks modern and better than most cars on the road. Plus that M5 with the V10. Oooh boy.

    I agree with you about taller women though ;) so much better than the little ones.

    Chris Harris is meh and kind of annoying.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    +2 on the tall women. Wifey is 5′ 11″ and I am 5′ 9″. Death by Snu Snu!!!!

    For the record I loved the E65 the day it came out. It’s a gorgeous car and the tail is the best part. Bangle had some misses (the fisheye lens effect noses of his Z4 and 6 series), but given how boring BMW’s designs are today I would have to agree.

    Don’t forget, he designed the E46 and E90. So while he might be crazy, he’s definitely not stupid or a bad designer. Though I do think both of those coupes could have used a good bit more style.

    • 0 avatar
      3Deuce27

      He didn’t design the E90, but had a hand in the E61.

      The E46 Coupe/Touring, is the work of Eric Gople. The Sedan by Bangle.

      And for the record a Japanese designer, Joji Nagashima, designed the E36 production coupe, the E90, the E39. and the Z3.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    I do remember BMW Photoshopping a Z3 and an E38 to reflect the coming pedestrian hood-crush standards. Their point was that the new regulations would make cars awkward and hideous. THEY were right, and never more so than in predicting cars influenced by Chris Bangle. Harris has just been worn down.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      How do cars like the Cayman/911/FR-S/Miata etc work around those regs though? I think it’s kinda BS. I mean the current Z4 has a relatively low shoulder line compared to a 5 or 7 series.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        The Cayman is mid-engined, removing the need for crush space over the engine block. The 911 is rear-engined. The FRS has a low-mounted flat engine that leaves plenty of free space between it and even a hood that’s mounted at the height of the front tires. The Miata is your only example that doesn’t make the point, and the newer ones are much more cylindrical in section than the ones that came before the rules.

        • 0 avatar
          sportyaccordy

          Ah OK so the whole thing is to create space between the hood and the engine? Makes sense I guess, but I’d still love to see stuff like that pop up hood Jag made for one of their cars a while back.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    It’s been over ten years since Bangle paraded the Emperor around in his new “clothes” to every one’s shock and horror. Ten years later the Emperor is still parading around naked, we’re just used to him

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Meh, I like Latinas so they’re almost all going to be shorter than my slightly over 5’10” self (you know once they take off their heels.) My wife is the tallest of her three sisters and she’s 5’3″.

    Back to Bangle, I give it another decade before I trust the judgement of his designs. Although now most everything has a “Bangle Butt”.

  • avatar
    tedward

    I don’t agree. First thing is I’m not going to give him credit for cars that others have designed since. He simply did not do that work. Secondly, we have no idea what cars would look like without his surfacing. Someone else could have done something similar or we would be a different path, who knows?

    As to his BMWs, they only looked good with top trim body kits and large rims, a point Harris made in his article. That is not impressive to me at least. A tasteful body kit and wheel package transforms any car. So if anything he did not have an eye for the whole vehicle line, only for the concept that would appear in the first auto show.

    BMW got to be an influencer, sure. But they lost a generation of attractive expensive cars. The real reason sales climbed under his tenure was finance and market related. Every car before and since from that brand is notably more attractive.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    I think I agreed with you back then, but in any case, Bangle did the right thing. I think his hand is in since E36.

    From there: “And of course only now are people beginning to copy those Bangle tricks – the complicated, seemingly nonsensical shapes. The flame-surfacing, the abstraction – but most of all the sense that evolutionary styling changes over time might always leave a brand unable to progress.”

    Wrong. OEMs started copying the “flame surfacing” 3-5 years after the E65 was launched, which in this industry is like “right away”. Proof? see the XV40 Camry (2006-11), there’s a lot of Bangle in that deck lid and the Mercedes W204.

    • 0 avatar
      3Deuce27

      The derisively called ‘Bangle Butt’ on the E65 was the work of Adrian van Hooydonk.

      Now, just about every sedan design has a bit of the raised trunk volume development, not to mention flame surfacing in everything from cars to toasters.

  • avatar
    WaftableTorque

    I don’t see the love for Chris Harris. I clicked on his link, and his writing style is a jumbled mess of pop culture at best, and non-coherent at worst. Just like the rest of Jalopnik. I’ll pass.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      I beg to differ, that article actually has some writing to it beyond a youtube videoGIF and a brief description.

      That said I didn’t like the writing style myself, seemed for of a “first draft” type of article where the author just wrote their thoughts down.

      But then again, my favorite writing styles are the most direct types, the stuff that may not be entertaining but it gets the point across.

    • 0 avatar
      3Deuce27

      I’m with you WaftableTorque, on Harris and Jalopnik, better then it was in the smartass startup days, but they still think they are the smartest guys on the planet when it comes to cars. I have forgotten more then they will ever know, and lived it.

      And what the hell does this have to do with a car blog> “GOP Staffer Calls Obama Daughters Classless, Dressed for the “Bar”_ posted on Jalopnik

  • avatar
    RHD

    Whenever I look at a flame-surfaced car, I think about how awfully difficult it must be for the body shop guy to Bondo a door or fender back to original specifications.

    Now for a quick TTAC participatory comments subject change:
    Everybody, now, nominate the car that is the most egregious example of OVERDONE COPYING of flame surfacing. (My vote goes to any Hyundai SUV.)

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    BMWs styling has been pretty influential even before Bangle, just look at the late 70’s Chevy Nova, early 90’s Accord, early 90’s, Acura Legend and the early 90’s Bonneville.

    If there was anything stylists took from BMW it was BMWs functional yet elegant roofline, and the “kink”, that oh so worshiped kink. But BMW didn’t invent any of these, they were taken from a 1950’s Plymouth Cranbrook.

    Even then BMW put out some pretty elegant cars that didn’t need to be top-trim to look halfway decent, once Bangle and his philosophical dribble showed up BMWs just gained about 600 needless details in their styling, and then the rest of the auto industry.

    When old Communist Ladas are being appreciated for their simple lines, you know that modern car stylists are doing something wrong.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      “If there was anything stylists took from BMW it was BMWs functional yet elegant roofline, and the “kink”, that oh so worshiped kink. But BMW didn’t invent any of these, they were taken from a 1950’s Plymouth Cranbrook.”

      I think the first rule in fashion can also be applied to automobile design as well.

      “Everything old is new again”

      I anxiously await the return of “fins”

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    I do love the new direction Bangle gave BMW, even they’ve managed to screw it up again with the new jellybean headlights and stretching and blowing up the same design in all sizes they can think of. They seem to be making a reasonable amount of money doing it though.
    As for BMW’s previous design, the classic 6 series were awesome lookers back in the day, but by the E38 that design was ‘worn out’.
    Maybe Bangles 7 series wasn’t perfect looking, and the 6-series did look a lot like the Nissan 350Z, but further sectioning the E36 and E38 would not have been better, especially with Lexus and Mitsubishi stealing their design language at the same time. The E60/E61 5-series is probably the best looking modern BMW, and pretty badass too in black.
    And, I’ve almost warmed up a bit to the X6 with time. OK, so it is still a 12 year old Mad Max fan’s dreamcar, but hey, I loved Mad Max when I was 12..(and I’m really looking forward to the 4th film next summer)
    Funny anecdote, I’ve seen a e24 6series owner on a BMW forum call a 2nd gen Corvair ‘the ugliest car ever made’. And most E30 owners would probably not have liked a Datsun 510 Bluebird either.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Oh how everyone wailed when those models came out. Well, the purists anyway. Who cares about them?

  • avatar
    petezeiss

    I don’t read Baruth’s articles because that’s like opening your brother’s hockey bag after a tournament, so what is that car in the photo?

    There’s an eyeless amphibian that looks very similar:

    http://www.barnorama.com/wp-content/images/2012/01/b1158/05.jpg

  • avatar
    ajla

    I think the E38 and E39 are two of the best looking cars that ever existed. You and Harris truly think that what came after was superior?

    I would pay money to read an actual car designer explain how the drowsy E63 is worthy of praise while a 2000 Monte Carlo is worthy of scorn.

    I’d also argue that the Audi C6 and Chrysler 300 have had around the same impact on current design as Bangle’s melty stuff.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      +1 Had an E39, haven’t even been tempted since

    • 0 avatar
      Zykotec

      I think the last good looking 7 series was the first one, it’s all been downhill from then, but there was no way of continuing the trend after the E38, they needed to break away and do something new. In my opinion the E39 was a shapeless blob in any other version than the M, and even that needs some work to look properly good. (I used to own an E34, the last ‘real’ BMW)The E60 was a huge improvement.
      Even the latest 5-series look kinda good in real life, although they don’t photograph well at all.
      And the E63 may be ugly, but it’s not Monte Carlo ugly by far, the BMW at least has the proportions for a sporty coupe.
      But I agree that the C6 and 300 has had a lot of impact. Audi in particular need a break from just making bricks with rounded corners, and with the first R8 and A5 they even proved that they could make beatiful cars, even if only for a short period.

      a little PS: I’m sure 3d modeling is a huge factor in the change in car designs the last decade or so, because more and more new cars look a lot better in real life than on photos, compared to a lot old cars that would be designed on paper and only looked good in certain angles.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        ” the E39 was a shapeless blob in any other version than the M”

        How did the “M” version change the shape of the E39?

        • 0 avatar
          Zykotec

          It straightened out the lower edges a bit, and the lowering and bigger wheels helped a bit, but I guess my comment was ‘wrong’. I ment to say that the M looked a bit less awful.
          The front end especially made a huge difference. (I’m not sure you got quite as many navy blue 520’s with orange indicators over there as we do here, but they sure helped keep the prices of used E34’s up for a long time)

      • 0 avatar
        3Deuce27

        The E63 was designed by Adrian van Hooydonk. Interior by David Carp.

        OF note; Bangle was head of Design, he didn’t personally design all the BMW models, though, as department head, was influential in those designs.

  • avatar
    JD23

    Regardless of what anyone argues, I don’t find the E60 5-series attractive. I thought it looked ridiculous when it was released and looks out of place in the context of both previous and current 5-series designs.

  • avatar
    cpthaddock

    No.

    Bangle bungled BMW’s heritage of elegance and recast their design in the direction of contrivance and “different” just to be different.

    And before anyone else leaps to their feet to proclaim BMW’s sales success as proof of Bungle’s success cast a glance, perchance, at Audi’s cars which have risen even more dramatically. All the while stealing what was formerly one of BMW’s joint claims to fame, their Teutonic elegance.

    Bereft of elegance, BMW cars are simply luxurious road performance appliances. Their sales momentum can be compared to the iPhone, which itself has suffered a Bangle-worthy style bungle in its latest incarnation. Notwithstanding, momentum carries the iPhone and BMW brand on to greater sales glory.

    I’ll join happily, genuinely, and celebrate with those elated by their new BMW or iPhone. I’ll also raise a challenge and call BS to those who worship unthinkingly, uncritically and exalt their well marketed gods in the manner of the emperors new clothes.

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    Chris Bangle did not do a single innovative thing, and what he did he did poorly. Volvo and Hyundai beat him to the “Bangle” butt. The 1950s and a number of individual cars beat him to the ideal of scalloped side surfaces.
    He is admirable for being a person of mediocre design talent that was a good enough BSer to get into the head BMW design position.
    Bangle should also be thanked by Audi for putting Audi solidly in the lead with regard to German design.

  • avatar

    Bangle design does NOT age well. Park an E65 next to an E38 and see which one has more elegance and appeal in its lines.

    • 0 avatar
      Zykotec

      Then park an E38 next to a much older Legend or Vigor…

      • 0 avatar
        JD23

        I argue that the E38 would look better than those two.

        • 0 avatar
          NoGoYo

          What even is a E38? 6 series? 7 series? 8 series?

        • 0 avatar
          Ryoku75

          After reading an early 90’s road test between four luxury sedans I don’t think much of the Legend.

          When it came to handling their Volvo 940 turbo was the best, followed by a Buick Park Avenue, then the Legend.

          Comfort? Buick in first. 0-60? Volvo 940 turbo, braking? Volvo 940 turbo again.

          The Legends probably a decent car yes, but Grandpa would stomp you at Autocross.

          Ftr the fourth car was a Mitsubishi Diamante, that one was consistently the worst in all categories.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        While I do like to preach the virtues of simplicity, it doesn’t hurt to be a little original on top of that.

        If anything Legends were ahead of their time, mid-sized Asian sedans copying BMWs styling but absolutely none of the driving dynamics.

        • 0 avatar
          Zykotec

          Although I’m tempted to agree, as I do prefer rwd cars, the Legend was made at least 5 years before the E38, but in general you are right about the Japanese, led by Honda, copying the style. I think that was what drove BMW to let Chris Bangle tke them in a different direction.
          If they had kept up improving the old design in the usual matter, the E46 would look like a Lexus IS, the E60 would have been a ’96 Mitsubishi Galant, and the E65 would have looked like a 2nd gen Legend. BMW had no choice but to try to be different.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Nissan beat Honda with the Maxima 4DSC which looked so much like an E34 that I bought one

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            Perhaps so, though it didn’t take too long for everyone to catch up.

            If anything I think that they should’ve let Bangle stylize their flagships and sportier models, but kept making more mundane Bimmers look like the more traditional look.

            That way they could escape the claws of Japan while still pleasing the purists.

            At Lie2me:
            Had I not picked up a Volvo I’d seriously be considering an early 90’s Maxima, they’re a bit BMW-ish but manage to look a bit more interesting than Hondas attempts.

            I just hope they’re rust-proofed better than Hondas.

          • 0 avatar
            Zykotec

            @ Ryoku75 ;
            I agree, but I think they did they did keep their bestseller, the 3-series, quite subtle for at least a couple of generations, especially compared to the 7-series.
            I personally the 90-91 Accord CB7 was probably the best looking sedan at it’s time, from any brand, worldwide, even if it had a few shortcomings in other areas. I don’t thnk there were many interesting designs attempted troughout most of the 90’s , until Audi started using designers (probably for the first time?)in the late 90’s.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        “Then park an E38 next to a much older Legend or Vigor…”

        We’ll just have to resign ourselves to the fact that the larger automotive universe didn’t and now doesn’t give a sh1t about those cars.

  • avatar
    3Deuce27

    I have been 100% behind Bangle since the beginning, when the aesthetically challenged started beating up on his designs, even calling one unloved feature, the ‘Bangle Butt’, which wasn’t even his idea.

    All of that said, Bangle is only a modern proponent of ‘Flame Surfacing’, he didn’t originally conceive the use of flame surfacing as a design treatment but it has become his trademark.

    As far as MR. Harris, for me, the jury is still out on that apparent… dilettante. When a person doesn’t know what a sports car is, well…

    Now for the humble Matt Farah, I have a growing respect.

    Travis Okulski… who?

    And why am I no longer getting daily/any posts from TTAC?

  • avatar
    3Deuce27

    What’s the real point of this posting? Is Jack working a personal angle with his seemingly apparent boot licking of Jalopnik drones? Just a passing thought………..

    Boy! Is this going to get me in trouble

  • avatar
    JPMotorsport

    You guys are kidding me right?

    If you didn’t realize Bangle was a very talented designer back in 2001 then you will never know.

    • 0 avatar
      3Deuce27

      Reg; “If you didn’t realize Bangle was a very talented designer back in 2001” and before… “then you will never know.”

      And there it lies, JPM. Nonsensical comments on design are to be expected from those whose design sense/understanding is very unsophisticated, and the bread and butter of like mind autojournos who regurgitate those lame unsupported prejudices to support their coveted opinions, or for click bait. But, what can you expect from a generalist audience posing as wannabe car geeks/gearheads.

      And, as in the prejudiced comments posted above, most of those with negative opinions, have no idea what they are talking about, attributing design details/cars to designers who had little or nothing to do with origination.

      When I first saw the so called ‘Bangle Butt’, my first thought was ‘how interesting’, but, I quickly realized I had seen something like it before, and where was that(?), posers.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        So you’re calling us poseurs because we get a few facts wrong on BMWs styling?

        Perhaps you should start your own bog and enlighten us on the wizardry behind droopy eyes and scowling front ends. I’ll read it, honestly!

        • 0 avatar
          petezeiss

          Ryoku,

          I once worked in a retirement center for affluent folk and well remember the vehemence with which spotty, doddering old men would snarl their opinions on war, finance, morals and Everything at each other, forming cliques and hatreds whose intensity was in direct proportion to the combatants’ distance from any real potency in their lives.

          It was great conditioning for the internet.

          • 0 avatar
            JD23

            Are you running in 2016?

          • 0 avatar
            Ryoku75

            Well put, I have to visit a retirement home here and there so I know what you mean.

            I’m honestly unsophisticated with styling, all that matters to me are the functional bits.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            Wonderful summary. Even better than the revelation that the most vehement feuds in workplaces occur within academia because they are usually about such trivial matters that everyone eventually forgets the real reason why they hate each other.

          • 0 avatar
            hubcap

            “…the most vehement feuds in workplaces occur within academia because they are usually about such trivial matters…”

            Also, in some occasions you’re dealing with theories. When dealing with theories there’s no difference between theory and practice so instead of dispositive information being uncovered over time the feud festers.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    i think no one likes the BMW 7 of the day because thats just too much but looking back now, we see the genius of the BMW e60 sedan

    you can get the V10 7 spd auto which even today, isnt matched by many

    and the 530 sedans which are all of 3,600lb and yet pretty much fully sized

    outside of the US the 530d/535d is a bit of a dark horse

  • avatar
    shaker

    “Bangle’s design direction was an attempt to add structural rigidity to the increasing surface areas of automobile side panels, which (due to decreases in sheet metal gauge required for weight savings, and the requirement that automotive ‘greenhouse’ height had to be reduced for additional weight savings) were easily dented by harried ‘test moms’, who were leaving elbow marks in door skins when closing the doors while loaded down with shopping bags and/or children.
    His initial surfacing attempts were influenced by the patents of Stephen Rust, and later the Ford Motor Co 5-AT (which Bangle considered “Aesthetically Superior”), but the the additional weight and aerodynamic drag introduced offset the rigidity increases. Despite these visionary design directions, Bangle was convinced by BMW management (paraphrased from the original German) to ‘tone it down a little’.”

    From the article: “Completely Made-Up, Over-Caffeinated Automotive History”

    With apologies. :-)

  • avatar
    Trick Fall

    I haven’t lusted after a BMW since the mid 90’s

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      My first experience with a BMW owner was in high school, where the older brother of a girl I liked had a 320i. They were from a wealthy family, but he was so arrogant and annoying that, along with a couple of stuck-up girls who drove “beemers”, turned off just about everyone there to BMWs.
      Where I work now, the only BMW owners are working women without kids. I’ll take a dependable but humble Honda, Mazda or Volvo over any pretentious snobmobile any day.

  • avatar

    He certainly allowed, nee encouraged BMW to take risks after having gathered so much corporate inertia that most firms would be justified in being shit scared to do anything out of the ordinary.

    In my view, his biggest failing during his involvement in BMW design output was allowing the E90 3 Series to be launched as such a bland, identity-shorn piece of nothingness. It wasn’t until the genuinely handsome E92/3 Coupe and Convertible were released that that platform had any visual charisma at all.

    Awesome to drive, I’ll admit, but you have to want to drive something before you take the helm.

  • avatar
    zbnutcase

    The only thing BMW I have ever lusted over is their air cooled radial aircraft engine they made in WWII, would love to add one to my engine collection. I swore off Your-A-Peon cars years ago. Ownership of them was like beating yourself in the head with a hammer; felt so good when it stopped.

  • avatar
    Waterloo

    “I’m only feeling slightly smug” I find this to be the most shocking statement of the article. Isn’t full on smugness Jack’s shtick?


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